Laurence Hobgood ‘When the Heart Dances’ (Naim) 4/5

Long-time arranger for Kurt Elling and pianist Laurence Hobgood has released an album that highlights his own talents and in the intimate setting of bassist Charlie Haden and the occasional vocals of close collaborator Elling. Stylistically influenced by the romantic tradition of piano jazz playing perfected by Bill Evans, it is the apparent simplicity in style that immeidately impresses. However, in leaving space and playing the right notes lies the real skill and this is one of the album’s strengths. Of the three original compositions, ‘When the heart dances’ stands out and ‘Leatherwood’ reveals the refined side to Hobgood’s writing skills. Otherwise it is an immaculate selection of the American songbook with a reflective and even mournful take on ‘Que sera sera’. Meanwhile Haden supplies his own composition on ‘First song’ on which he takes a lovely bass solo and, as ever, Hobgood is very willing to share musical space. Elling excels on ‘Stairway to the stars’ which is an ideal ballad vehicle while Hobgood stretches out on an extended solo before Haden joins in on ‘New Orleans’. While not possessing a highly individual sound, Hobgood is a truly gifted arranger and accompanyist, and on this recording for hi-fi specialist label Naim has delivered a varied album in a minimalist setting and one which provides great pleasure with repeated listening.

Tim Stenhouse